Hilarious video from Australia about Carbon Capture and Storage

December 2, 2021 -by TheJuiceMedia on YouTubeEditor’s note: Valley Watch was one of the very first organizations to expose the lies of carbon capture and sequestration. The real CCS is leaving the coal and oil in the ground, as nature intended.

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The Kemper project just collapsed. What it signifies for CCS

October 26, 2021 – by Kristi Swartz in Energy Wire. Editor’s note:This plant is essentially the same as Duke Energy’s Edwardsport power plant in southern Indiana.

One of the nation’s largest symbols of carbon capture technology — the Kemper project — has collapsed into a pile of debris, highlighting the strategy of one of the nation’s largest utilities as it aims to decarbonize its fleet.

The Edwardsport coal gasification plant suffered tremendous cost overruns during construction and has failed to live up to its it promised performance.since built. File Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

The project, which was half of a multimillion-dollar power plant in Mississippi intended to gasify lignite coal and store its captured carbon emissions, was imploded by Southern Co.’s Mississippi Power unit earlier this month because the equipment was no longer needed. The facility, Plant Ratcliffe, captured worldwide attention and was supposed to host the first commercial-scale carbon capture project on a large coal plant in the United States.

But what was known as “Kemper” for most of its construction life stopped after delays and increased costs prompted Mississippi utility regulators to say in 2017 the facility could run on natural gas only.

Southern suspended construction on the carbon capture portion of the power plant the following week (Energywire, June 22, 2017).

Workers have spent roughly one year — totaling 70,000 man hours — removing equipment from Plant Ratcliffe that is not needed to produce electricity, spokesman Jeff Shepard said last week. The implosion was another step in that process.

“It’s so big, they had to do a controlled implosion,” Shepard said. “It’s really about the equipment that’s not in production.”

That included about half of the building that housed the gasifier to transform lignite coal as well as some mechanical and chemical equipment. The entire multilevel building, which looked like a maze of pipes like any large power plant, did not collapse.

There’s more work to be done, plant Manager Bruce Harrington told WTOK, saying “the process of removing equipment will go on for some time now. This was just the next step. “

He added: “It’ll take some time to remove the equipment and steel that came to the ground, so we don’t have a time frame set on that yet. Yes, there will be an additional felling.”

Plant Ratcliffe’s electricity serves roughly a third of Mississippi Power’s customers, Shepard said. The adjacent coal mine once intended to feed into the carbon capture system is now covered in grass and has trees starting to grow on top.

However, it may not be the end for carbon capture technology at the site.

The Energy Department last year awarded the Southern States Energy Board a grant to support a $23.5 million study to determine whether it is feasible to store carbon dioxide from three of Southern’s power plants in Alabama and Mississippi.

There are carbon capture assessments taking place at Plant Ratcliffe and at Alabama Power Co.’s Plant Miller, which runs on coal, according to SSEB’s annual report, released earlier this year.
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After two recent U.S. Steel discharges, Gov. Holcomb, IDEM to need to fix broken environmental protection system

October 9, 2021 – by Susan Thomas in the Chicago Tribune (paywall)

As her state of disbelief quickly turned to outrage, Susan MiHalo watched an orange plume of murky discharge expand from the U.S. Steel Burns Harbor outflow into Lake Michigan. Residents and boaters had seen the spill early that afternoon of Sept. 26, but were unsure of who to call. There were no signs along the waterway with this emergency information. By the time MiHalo, chair of the Ogden Dunes Environmental Advisory Board (ODEAB), was alerted and started making emergency calls, hours had passed. Within one hour of her first calls, the National Park Service arrived on the scene and promptly closed all area beaches out of an abundance of caution.

Contrast that to the time it took the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 (EPA) to show up at the scene: it was almost 8 p.m. and the precious hours to contain the spill were lost. While an anxious public panicked over what could be in that orange plume, U.S. Steel, IDEM and EPA had no comment on the substance for several days — a gut punch of a response, considering only weeks earlier IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott vociferously assured attendees at a public comment hearing that IDEM was taking its severe emergency communication problems with industry and area towns “very, very seriously,” while granting U.S. Steel another five-year permit in spite of hundreds of violations and legal actions against the mill.

That very public hearing was for a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit renewal for another area steel mill Cleveland-Cliffs, formerly ArcelorMittal, whose 2019 toxic ammonia and cyanide spill into Burns Harbor was ignored by industry and IDEM until thousands of dead fish surfaced four days after the spill. Throughout that time, residents of Ogden Dunes and visitors to the National Park continued to recreate in the lake, including drinking and bathing in that water. There was no emergency response. In contrast, Ogden Dunes Town Council President Doug Cannon literally ran down to the beach himself to call people out of the water. For area residents, the U.S. Steel spill was a bitter repeat of those events of only two years prior.

By the time that 2019 catastrophic spill happened, ArcelorMittal had already broken Clean Water laws more than 100 times, according to a lawsuit filed against them by the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Bianca Passo, also of Ogden Dunes ODEAB, said “Each time an industrial spill occurs, our town is forced to close the beach and Indiana American Water must shut off the Ogden Dunes drinking water intake. Each time an illegal discharge occurs we feel like we are playing a game of roulette, wondering what type of toxic chemical might be dumped next.”

Residents, area business, and the $500 million tourism industry in Northwest Indiana have plenty of reasons to be nervous. U.S. Steel just signed a consent decree this September intended to prevent future illegal discharges, in reaction to their 2017 toxic hexavalent chromium spill (that flowed the same route into Lake Michigan as their Sept. 26 spill, which was finally identified days later as a permitable amount of iron). U.S. Steel was also required to pay a civil penalty of $601,242 and reimburse government agencies for $625,000, plus pay $600,000 over the next three years for testing the lake and its connected waterways. In May, IDEM fined U.S. Steel $950,000 for more than 25 permit violations from 2018-2020. Unfortunately the monetary sum of their penalties is no deterrent — it’s an actual bargain for U.S. Steel, whose record profits this year were recorded in excess of $1 billion. U.S. Steel’s history in environmental violations is vast in other states as well: Between 2018-19 alone they violated the Clean Air Act more than 12,000 times according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Days after the Sept. 26 spill, area outrage finally reached a tipping point, which has grown in volume since the spill was followed by an oil spill from U.S. Steel Midwest earlier this week. Spearheaded by Save the Dunes, a coalition of more than 25 organizations including environmental groups, local governments and agencies, residents associations, and recreation and sporting groups convened for an emergency meeting. Subsequently, they sent a letter to Governor Eric Holcomb and IDEM Commissioner Pigott demanding stiffer monetary penalties, heightened scrutiny, and vigorous enforcement against chronic polluters. They also demanded pollution control and communications requirements be strengthened in future NPDES permit renewals with further review of IDEM’s permitting process, and more thorough support for IDEM, which lost $35 million in budget cuts over the last decade leading to staffing issues.

“Over the last several budget cycles IDEM and the Department of Natural Resources have been sorely underfunded,” says retiring State Senator for the region’s lake shore districts Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. “With the budget surplus we have now, there is no excuse. Indiana needs that money to get back in the fight to protect our environment.”

IDEM permitting allows industry to self-monitor/self-test, leaving the fox to guard the hen house. It was a whistleblower, not IDEM, revealed repeated fraudulent testing from ArcelorMittal following the 2019 spills. It is worth noting that the emergency coalition was not convinced the Sept. 26 spill was “harmless” iron. Though EPA and IDEM approved the results, it was U.S. Steel who conducted the tests. At the federal level, EPA Region 5, that serves Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and 35 Indigenous Tribes, only has an acting director but no one to officially fill that job yet after budget cuts hampered its effectiveness during the Trump years. It’s also seen as a free pass to industry polluters.

Economy and environment linked

Unless immediate emergency actions are taken for area industry to obey the Clean Water Act and environmental laws, we are headed toward a state where gross domestic product revenues, property values and taxes will plummet with each passing spill. Continue reading

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OPINION: Indiana is leading the way to environmental Armageddon

September 30, 2021 – By Katelyn Balakir, in the Indiana Daily Student

One in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer. 

July was the hottest month on Earth since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began recording data more than 140 years ago. Upwards of 45,000 wildfires scorched 5.8 million acres across the United States this year, causing places such as Reno, Nevada to experience the worst air quality on record. Hurricane Ida was one of strongest storms to make landfall in the United States, triggering record hourly rainfall in Manhattan and New York City’s first ever flash flood warning. 

An estimated 1 billion sea creatures were cooked to death off the coast of the Pacific Northwest following the heat wave. Last year, California wildfires emitted more carbon dioxide than the entire state’s power grid. Hurricane Ida disrupted crude oil production in the Gulf resulting in more than 1,500 reports of oil leaks. 

Although scientists agree some devastating impacts of global warming are already irreversible, they also agree we must mitigate their severity by quickly and drastically reducing carbon emissions. Yet,  Indiana emits the most toxic pollution per square mile in the United States, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report

Instead of adopting the sense of urgency our dying planet warrants, Indiana remains dependent on fossil fuels as the eighth largest greenhouse gas-emitting state in the nation. Indiana has an obligation to its residents, country and the rest of humankind to spearhead the shift toward clean energy. 

Coal accounts for 53% of Indiana’s energy generation. Although Indiana has cut its electricity-related coal consumption by almost half since 2010, most of the reduction was offset by increased natural gas consumption. 

Human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, has increased the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide works alongside other greenhouse gasses to trap heat in the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect according to Melissa Denchak of the Natural Resources Defense Council. While the greenhouse effect is natural, emissions have thrown the natural process off balance causing a rapid rise in greenhouse gases and subsequently temperature, Denchak said. 

Scientists concluded human-driven climate change created the Northwest heat wave, doubled the Western U.S. forest fire area and increased the likelihood and intensity of major hurricanes like Ida. 

The use of fossil fuels also creates more localized consequences for Indiana. Continue reading

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Air Pollution Linked to Severe Mental Illness

September 3, 2021 – by Tiffany Duong in EcoWatch


Air pollution is an underrated problem in the world, with many dangerous health consequences.

Recently, the most comprehensive study of its kind linked exposure to air pollution to increased severity of mental illness, The Guardian reported.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, tested 13,000 people in London, England and used frequency of admission to hospitals or visits to community doctors and nurses as a measure of severity, the news report said. The researchers found that relatively small increases in exposure to nitrogen dioxide had negative effects on mental health, including a 32% increase in the risk of needing community-based treatment and an 18% increase in the risk of being admitted to a hospital.

Lead researcher Ioannis Bakolis of King’s College London said there is no safe level of air pollution.

“Even at low levels of air pollution, you can observe this kind of very important effect,” Bakolis told The Guardian.

Importantly, the researchers also found that even a small reduction in a single pollutant could reduce illness and save the UK national healthcare system tens of millions a year.

The scientists noted that their findings likely would apply to most cities in developed nations around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds safe levels. The study showed that millions would be harmed by incremental increases in air pollution, and, conversely, reducing air pollution could therefore benefit millions of people.

Crucially, the findings indicate that growing up in polluted places increases the risk of mental disorders. Because many cities and developing nations are crowded and polluted, this raises questions of environmental justice.

The Guardian previously reported that even small increases in air pollutants lead to significant rises in depression and anxiety. Dirty air was also linked to increased suicides. Unrelated studies have linked air pollution to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

According to IQ Air, a similar 2019 study of mental health data from 151 million people in the United States and 1.4 million in Denmark found that long periods of increased air pollution could be linked to a 17 percent increase in bipolar disorder, 6 percent in depression diagnoses and a 20 percent increase in personality disorder diagnoses. Those scientists likened the level of air pollution measured to what could typically be found in major urban areas.

In other parts of the body, dirty air can cause everything from blindness to heart disease to increased cholesterol to cancer. A 2019 global review concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ in the human body.

For the new study, the link between increased chemicals in polluted air and mental health issues was strongest for NO2, which is largely emitted by diesel vehicles, The Guardian reported. Small particle pollution, which is produced by burning all fossil fuels, also ranked high.

The scientists followed up seven years after the first treatment and found the link to air pollution was still apparent. The findings were not explained by a range of other possible factors including age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation or population density, although unidentified factors might still play an important role, the researchers noted.

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EPA exposed for hiding chemical risks, favoring corporate interests.

August 31, 2021 – by Carey Gillam,  US Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long and well-documented history of questionable conduct when it comes to regulation of chemicals important to the profit centers for many large and powerful corporations.  Numerous examples show a pattern of agency actions that allow for the use of dangerous chemicals by consumers, farmers, groundskeepers and others despite evidence of harm.

Documents and other evidence, including information provided in public disclosures by multiple EPA scientists, reveals actions in which EPA managers have intentionally covered up risks associated with certain chemicals. According to the evidence from these EPA insiders, pressure from chemical manufacturers, chemical industry lobbyists and from certain U.S. lawmakers drives internal agency manipulations that protect corporate interests but endanger public health.

Evidence indicates the misconduct dates back decades and has occurred in administrations led by Democrats and Republican alike.

A research project sponsored by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics said while the EPA has “many dedicated employees who truly believe in its mission,” the agency has been “corrupted by numerous routine practices,” including a “revolving door” between EPA and industry in which corporate lawyers and lobbyists gain positions of agency power; constant  industry lobbying against environmental regulations; pressure from  lawmakers who are beholden to donors; and meddling by the White House.

Blowing the whistle

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21 Century Act, signed into law on June 22, 2016, was the first substantive reform to Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law requires EPA to make an affirmative determination on whether a new chemical substance presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment under “known, intended or reasonably foreseen conditions of use.” See information here for more information.

Despite the law, the EPA has make valid determinations about the risk presented by numerous chemicals.

In June 2021, four EPA scientists, each working within the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and
Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), publicly accused the the EPA of deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments. The four whistleblowers made their complaints public through a group called Public  Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a June 28 letter to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, PEER said the four EPA scientists were providing “disturbing evidence of fraud and corruption,” involving “deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments conducted under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), including PFAS (a.k.a. “forever chemicals”), and the deletion of potential health effects without the knowledge or consent of the human health assessors.”

The letter further states:

“All four clients have experienced numerous instances where their risk assessments were changed
by their managers or by colleagues in response to direction by management. These changes
include –
● Deleting language identifying potential adverse effects, including developmental toxicity,
neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity;
● Major revisions that alter the report conclusions to indicate that there are no toxicity
concerns despite data to the contrary; and
● Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees in order to secure their
agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health.”

As a result of the manipulations, people who work with these chemicals are not receiving information they need to protect themselves, such as “proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, and first aid and firefighting measures,” according to PEER.
This is a particular concern for pregnant women, according to the PEER complaint.

Erasing important information

On August 26, 2021, PEER filed a separate complaint alleging that the EPA has been breaking the law by erasing original versions of internal communications and draft documents and retaining only the final version of key documents. The practice violates the Federal Records Act by eliminating details of the decision-making process from outside review, according to PEER.

PEER states that that discarding of documents trails is not only contrary to law but also violates the EPA’s own records retention policy. According to PEER, its complaint focuses on two classes of documents:

  • Alterations of chemical risk assessments by managers in which both the identity of the manager and the alterations themselves are not apparent; and
  • Internal comments related to the development of its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, in which EPA software overwrote the original and all prior versions any time there was an edit. Thus, only the “final” version was saved.

“It is as if EPA memorializes its internal decision-making in disappearing ink,” PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, said in a press release. “EPA’s record-keeping practices allow unknown officials to make changes while disguising what precisely was changed and who changed them.”

PEER said it has asked the National Archives and Records Administration to intervene to prevent the EPA from destroying more records and to adopt safeguards to prevent any recurrences.

The case of Ruth Etzel

Ruth Etzel,  former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), has pending whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board contending she was subject to illegal retaliation in 2018 and 2019 after she complained publicly about what she said was  EPA resistance to stronger public protections against lead poisoning. Continue reading

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No more babies? The hormone-altering chemicals threatening human procreation

Sperm counts are set to reach zero in 2045, leading scholar Shanna Swan says.

March 10, 2021 – By Eline Schaart in Politico

File Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

There’s a looming solution to all of humanity’s problems — by 2045 most men may no longer be able to reproduce because of the impact of hormone-altering chemicals.

That’s according to Shanna Swan, a leading scholar of reproductive health. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” she told POLITICO. 

That adds yet another danger to the list of potential human calamities, but awareness of our looming reproductive demise still isn’t widespread, Swan said.

“We’re about 40 years behind global warming, in terms of awareness,” she said.  

Four years ago, she calculated that the sperm count of the average man in Western countries had fallen by 59 percent from 1973 to 2011— making international headlines of a looming “spermageddon.”

Now Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, paints an even grimmer picture in her book “Count Down,” which was published in February. 

Following current projections, sperm counts of the median man are set to reach zero in 2045, Swan and co-author Stacey Colino, a health and science journalist, write in the book. That means half of all men would have zero viable sperm and the rest would have very close to zero.

The reason, Swan said, may be growing exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in everything from plastics, electronics, food packaging and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics — and as such are in the bodies of just about everyone on the planet. 

Chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates interfere with normal hormonal function, including testosterone and estrogen. Even in small doses, they pose a particular danger to unborn babies whose bodies are still developing. 

While other factors such as contraception, cultural shifts, obesity and smoking are likely to be contributing factors, Swan warned of indicators that suggest there are also biological reasons — including studies that found infant boys are developing more genital anomalies and testosterone levels have been dropping at 1 percent per year since 1982.

The outlook for women isn’t good either. The miscarriage rate has risen by 1 percent per year over the last two decades and more girls are experiencing early puberty. If these trajectories continue, she warned, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become widely needed for conceiving children.

Swan has been studying the impact of chemicals on fertility for over two decades. In 2005 she was the first to prove with her team the so-called phthalate syndrome in humans — showing that baby boys exposed to four different phthalates at the end of the first trimester in the womb had a shorter distance between the anus and the beginning of the genitals, or gooch — one of the best indicators of reproductive potential later in life. 

Avoiding extinction

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Australian State bans “Killer” single use plastics

March 16, 2021 – By Graham Readfearn in The Guardian

Queensland has banned single-use plastics that are blighting waterways and beaches. Photograph: Paulo Oliveira/Alamy

Queensland has become the second Australian state to pass laws banning single-use plastics including straws and cutlery that are blighting the state’s waterways and beaches and endangering wildlife.

Environmental groups congratulated the Queensland government after it passed legislation on Wednesday night that will ban single-use plastic items, including polystyrene food containers and cups, from 1 September.

The state’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the state had seen benefits from its 2018 ban on single-use plastic bags, which had dropped 70% in litter surveys.

The state’s container deposit scheme that gives a 10c return on most plastic and glass bottles, also introduced in 2018, was now approaching 3bn returned items.

Deadliest plastics: bags and packaging biggest marine life killers, study finds

“Plastic pollution is spoiling our streets and parks, escaping into our ocean and waterways and killing our iconic wildlife,” Scanlon said. “Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once and then thrown away and that litter is destroying our environment.”

South Australia was the first state to introduce a ban on single-use plastics, in September, with a similar list of items banned.

Last week the federal government launched a national plastics plan that includes a phase-out by 2022 of expanded polystyrene packaging and food containers.

Queensland’s ban covers single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and plates, and polystyrene food containers and cups.

The laws exempt supply to people who need any of those items, such as people with disability or healthcare needs.

Exemptions have also been made for plastic straws and spoons attached to food packaging, including drink cartons and yoghurts, though the minister said this would be reviewed. Continue reading

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Ten years later, Fukushima disaster still a disaster in the making

March 11, 2021 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Wow, it was 10 years ago today that the disaster in Fukushima, Japan began. Sadly, it continues, dumping millions of gallons of radioactive contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, endangering aquatic food supplies, for centuries to come.

For more than 70 years, the nuclear industry has told us their problems were transient and answers just around the corner while huge volumes of nuclear waste build up with no true solution in sight.

In 1977, the Hoosier National Forest, near Branchville, was proposed to be a major depository for high level nuke waste. To counter that we formed the predecessor to Valley Watch called the Nuclear Waste Action Committee that successfully fought that ridiculous proposal.

What followed was the formation of Valley Watch and we were part of a successful effort to stop the Marble Hill nuke near Madison. That was our first long term fight and lasted seven full years.

Today, we are being told that a new smaller reactor is the answer to energy needs, envisioning those small nukes being built in every locale that is gullible enough to buy into the prognostications of a discredited industry. One that refuses to go away even though they have a legacy of Fermi, Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island, Maxey Flats, Hanford, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

It should be clear to everyone that the nuclear industry is not to be trusted and we should all be “Better Active Today-Than Radioactive Tomorrow.”


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Good News for southern Indiana. Duke to shut down New Albany coal plant ahead of schedule.

February 24, 2021 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor 

Duke Energy’s Gallagher coal plant lies on the western edge of New Albany, IN across fro Louisville. It is the plant that is seen just west of the I-64 Bridge as Hoosiers drive into Louisville. © BlairPhotoEVV

Duke Energy Indiana has decided to shut down its dirty, economically unjustified coal fired plant in New Albany by June 1, a year earlier than they originally planned in their 2018 Integrated Resource Plan. 

According to company sources, the transmission related infrastructure at the plant will remain in place while Duke decides on the site’s future. There will still be operations to close down the massive coal ash facilities where coal combustion waste has been stored next to the Ohio River for nearly sixty years. 

Duke will continue to operate its Gibson and Edwardsport coal plants in Gibson and Knox Counties in SW Indiana until at least 2028. Duke Energy Indiana serves customers in sixty-nine central Indiana Counties but built most of its generation capacity in southern section of the state. 

Gallagher will soon join a number of other southern Indiana power plants in closing that include Tanners Creek in Lawrenceburg (I&M), Ratts in Petersburg (Hoosier Energy), a couple of units at Petersburg (IPL), and several slated to close this decade. These closures are good news for Hoosiers who have been forced to breathe fouled air from the emissions of those power plants for a half century. It remains to be known what impact these closures will have on tax revenue in the Counties where they are located.

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Wildfire smoke may carry ‘mind-bending’ amounts of fungi and bacteria, scientists say

February 8, 2021 – By Joseph Serna in the Los Angeles Times 

Cars drive along the San Francisco Bay Bridge under an orange smoke filled sky at midday in San Francisco, California on September 9, 2020. - More than 300,000 acres are burning across the northwestern state including 35 major wildfires, with at least five towns "substantially destroyed" and mass evacuations taking place. (Photo by Harold POSTIC / AFP) (Photo by HAROLD POSTIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Cars drive along the Golden Gate Bridge under an orange, smoke-filled sky in the middle of the day as massive wildfires burned in Northern California on Sept. 12. Scientists are concerned that wildfire smoke contains microbes that can cause illness. (Harold Postic / AFP/ Getty Images)

When wildfires roar through a forest and bulldozers dig into the earth to stop advancing flames, they may be churning more into the air than just clouds of dust and smoke, scientists say.

Those dark, billowing plumes of smoke that rise on waves of heat during the day and sink into valleys as the night air cools may be transporting countless living microbes that can seep into our lungs or cling to our skin and clothing,according to research published recently in Science. In some cases, researchers fear that airborne pathogens could sicken firefighters or downwind residents.

“We were inspired to write this because we recognize that there are many trillions of microbes in smoke that haven’t really been incorporated in an understanding … of human health,” said Leda Kobziar, a University of Idaho associate professor in wildland fire science. “At this point, it’s really unknown. The diversity of microbes that we’ve found are really mind-bending.”

As this recent fire seasons suggests, the need to understand what’s in the wildfire smoke we can’t help but breathe and how it may affect us has never been more pronounced, but scientists say we are seriously behind the curve.

Wildfires burned across more than 10.2 million acres of the United States in 2020, federal statistics show, including some 4.2 million acres in California, where a greater number of residents were exposed to smoke for a longer period of time than ever before.

Wildfire smoke now accounts for up to half of all fine-particle pollution in the Western U.S., according to researchers. Although there are many studies on the long-term impacts to human health from urban air pollution and short-term impacts from wildfire smoke, there’s little known about the multitude of ways the latter can hurt us over a lifetime.

“Frankly, we don’t really know about the long-term effects of wildfire smoke because community exposures haven’t been long-term before,” said Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and a member of the California Air Resources Board.

But humans — and Californians in particular — should expect to inhale more wildfire smoke in the future.

Scientists say the planet will continue warming for decades to come, even if humans suddenly collectively act to stop climate change. This warming, and other factors, are contributing to ever more destructive wildfires. The state’s forests, meanwhile, are struggling to adapt and native plants are being displaced by faster-burning invasive species.

Add to those trends a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system, and microbe-filled fire smoke every year could be considered a growing health risk, researchers say. They wonder whether microbes in wildfire smoke could make cancer patients more vulnerable to infections or make children with asthma more prone to developing pneumonia.

Scientists believe some microbes survive and even proliferate in wildfire, where heat scorches the ground and leaves behind a layer of carbon that shields microbes within the earth from intense heat. Others survive in the air because wildfire particulates can absorb the sun’s otherwise lethal ultraviolet radiation, the scientists said. And still other spores are likely spread on wind currents caused by fire.

Kobziar and study co-author George Thompson III, an associate professor of medicine at UC Davis, said that up until now, the connection between microbes and wildfires has been anecdotal — such as the tendency for wildland firefighters to get sick with Valley fever after working on an incident. The illness is contracted by inhaling spores of the fungi genus Coccidioides.

“We have more questions than answers at this point,” Thompson said. “Our lungs are exposed to pathogens every day we don’t think much of. But [what] if we increase the number of microbes in there with fire?” Continue reading

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Plastics Recycling is obviously not working. What remains to be done to make it work.

January 21, 2021, By Paul Goettlich, valleywatch.net contributor

Photo © 2010 John Blair.

We’re told that a world without plastics is impossible to imagine. But 70 years ago, I lived with almost none of it. Modern humans lived without it for almost 200-thousand years. Now it’s plainly an existential threat to all life on Earth. And it’s literally everywhere. It’s impossible to overstate how much plastic surrounds us.

Plastics production began, in earnest, about 1950 and grew quite steadily over the last 70 years to the point that more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic have been made. That’s more than enough to cover Manhattan’s 22.7 square mile area under two miles of plastic waste – a staggering 45 cubic miles of plastic. Until recently, plastics manufacturers haven’t considered where it would all go after its use. Much of it is used less than one minute before carelessly discarded. Plastics aren’t durable, but they simultaneously fail to decompose safely in a timely manner. They all migrate harmful toxins into whatever they contact.

We’re led to think the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol on plastic indicates it’s recyclable and that the number inside the triangles indicates the type of plastic. Both are exaggerations, essentially deceptions. The chemical makeup of all plastic types varies between manufacturers. There is no standard, making the recycling numbers nonspecific for the purposes of recycling. Dave Williamson, an ancient plastic recycler in Berkeley, considers that inconsistency in plastic formulas one type of contamination that hinders recycling because they cannot be mixed without decreasing its value. Another type of contamination comes from the substances that the plastic containers held. In other words, your food gets into the plastic. Conversely, that plastic also gets into your food.

The FDA, which regulates food contact plastics, states that all plastics must meet their standards for migration of toxic chemicals. But FDA regulations are not consistent with current scientific knowledge.  They fail to acknowledge that extremely low doses of plastic’s constituent chemicals disturb and injure the endocrine systems of humans and all animals. And the industry is trusted to test its own products, leaving us with little defense and protecting the industry instead. The chemical ingredients of plastics are proprietary information protected by law – trade secrets. The FDA is prohibited from releasing them to the public which makes public research of the toxicity extremely difficult.

Officially, 9% has been recycled, but less than 1% has been recycled more than once. That means it isn’t actually recycled or recyclable. The system of recycling was never meaningfully thought out. Instead it’s merely a tool of waste management that was fraudulently concocted by the industry to impose its responsibilities onto the public. Their burden of waste is placed on the public in terms of tax dollars, land use, environmental damage and depletion, as well as simple aesthetics and healthcare costs. These are enormous burdens on all parts of society. Even academic integrity is severely affected by corporate control through its funding.

Incineration is presently at 12% and rising. The majority, 60% of all plastics ever produced were landfilled or discarded in the natural environment. Plastics recycling is a lie. Biodegradable plastics is an oxymoron because the legal definitions barely consider the massive volumes produced and their toxicity.  Quite simply, they don’t biodegrade. Green plastics and the circular economy of plastics are yet more distractions to allow plastics to continue being produced. Bioplastics can be just as toxic as petroleum-based plastics. They have the added burden of being composed of GMO crops such as corn and soy which are products of a vile commercial ag industry that thrives on highly toxic synthetic chemical inputs such as Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Bioplastics also fail to fully biodegrade. The key tools of these massive corporations are lies, spin, lobbyists, payoffs, threats, and more lies.Plastic

In the early 1960s, plastic trash floated by me as I sailed the Long Island Sound. In 1974, Dr Edward J. Carpenter wrote about his observations of pelagic plastic in the journal Science.   He recently told me that a plastics industry representative visited him at his workplace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and threatened him and possibly his superiors to discontinue writing about it. In 2001, we learned that there was 6-times more plastic floating plankton in the North Pacific Gyre by weight.  The response from regulators was a daft silence.

Twenty years later and conditions are critically worse, both in terms of quantities and how much is known about the harm of these environmental toxicants to all life. Not only has there been no effective action taken in reducing plastics waste and production, there’s considerably more going into the oceans, up into the air and down into the earth. My own opinion is that the production of most or all plastics and synthetic polymers must be halted immediately. If it is made, there is no way to control where it ends up. And the chances of chemically redesigning these plastics to be nontoxic is close to zero. Reducing toxicity could be compared to a Biden presidency to replace Trump’s. Continue reading

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UPDATE: It is time for Spencer County officials to demand action from Riverview Energy.

October 10, 2020 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. In any case, such a plant, lit up to feign daylight on the ground will permanently alter the bucolic life of those who currently live in Dale. Photo credit:Unknown. 

Valley Watch and Southwest Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life (NOC2D) have remained active during 2020 in our efforts to keep the ridiculous proposal for a Coal to Diesel plant from being constructed in Dale. Of course, the Covid Pandemic has slowed life as usual but our efforts remain strong and we predict success in stopping the plant in the end.

Surely, you remember in 2017 when Riverview Energy made its original pitch to County leaders and the word on the Street was, “This is a done deal!” And although many of the details surrounding the plant were (and still are) kept secret, our groups have collectively managed to analyze the economics, emissions and overall viability of building and operating such a costly and polluting plant in the bucolic town of Dale. Dale’s Town Board bought into the plant with stars in their eyes over the promised tax revenue a $2.5 billion plant would bring. 

But here is the thing. This plant will only be built by defying all the odds. 

First, is its stated cost. Did you know that Riverview is still using the same cost figures they used when they went to Vermillion County in 2010. In depositions, Riverview said the proposal in Spencer is identical to the one first proposed for Vermillion. And it should be noted that after nearly seven years there, Vermillion County officials tired of Riverview’s empty promises and politely told them to go elsewhere. Do Riverview’s financial experts claim there has been zero inflation since 2010?

Second, Riverview has claimed that financing for the project is just around the corner but have shown no evidence that their project will meet even the most liberal criteria for what will ultimately be closer to $4 billion. We do know that it DOES NOT qualify for current loan guarantees from the Federal Government since they refuse to capture and properly dispose of the enormous carbon dioxide emissions they will create.

Third, Riverview is a “start-up” company. They are not an established Exxon, Apple or Amazon that can finance such a large project out of pocket. In fact, their owner and President, Mr. Merle admitted in sworn testimony that he had zero experience in the manufacturing, construction, or operating anything, let alone what could turn out to be the third largest project ever undertaken in Indiana. Indeed, his previous experience was tutoring rich kids to take the SAT test-a business which I might add failed.

Fourth, there are only two of these facilities built in the entire world. One is in communist China and one in Russia, both of which are dictatorships with very limited environmental regulation. Of course, Merle also says he has been to neither but expects his money people to accept that as good business practice. USA environmental rules will significantly add to the cost of such a facility but Riverview does not seem to understand that fact or perhaps their plan is to simply ignore even the loose conditions of their construction permit which our groups have challenged, so far winning on at least one count where IDEM ignored their own public participation rules to issue.

Fifth, we are now living in a carbon constrained world. The international coal industry is on its last leg and the transportation fleet, including shipping are seeking alternatives to diesel fuel and naphtha

This list of reasons is almost endless but consider this. Riverview has a ten year history of promising things they simply can’t or won’t deliver. And, although they have had the support of County and economic development officials in Spencer County, nothing changes the fact that no one in their right mind is going to loan someone with zero experience, billions of dollars to build something that may have made sense in the early 20th Century but is nothing but a failed technology for a carbon conscious society in 2020.

Thus, I ask, when are Spencer County and Dale leaders going to follow the action of those in Vermillion County and tell Riverview that they are tired of continual division in their community and that it is time for him to put up or shut up. Riverview claims to control the land they have chosen and they have already had almost seventeen months since acquiring permission to begin construction but have actually done NOTHING to make that happen.

Officials need to ask what is the status of their land options? What is the status of the Front End Engineering and Design? What is the factual status of Riverview’s financing and who is providing that? Where is Riverview going to get their process water and who is paying for the infrastructure to get it to the site? Where is Riverview going to dispose of both its solid and liquid waste and what will that consist of? What kind of Federal, State and County taxpayer subsidies is Riverview asking Hoosiers to make?

If Riverview refuses or does not want to publicly disclose the answers to these and other pertinent questions, then everyone in Spencer County should tell them to hit the road and allow the whole community to reunite to achieve the progress they so rightly deserve.

Spencer County already has the dubious distinction of being one of the most toxic polluted communities on earth, ranking in the top 25 in the US while sporting a population around 20,000. Illustration credit BlairPhotoEVV

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Riverview Energy/Merle accused of fraud in NY suit

July 7, 2020 – by John Blair. valleywatch.net editor

Prior to proposing a multi billion dollar Coal to Diesel refinery in Dale, Merle’s only job was tutoring high schoolers on the SAT test.

Of course anyone can file a complaint in court against anyone. But I find it interesting that recently a complaint was filed alleging fraud on the part of Riverview Energy and its President, Gregory Merle in the Southern District of New York. This is the man and company that some Spencer County officials and many in State government yearn to locate a preposterous Coal To Diesel plant in Dale. Read for yourself.  SDNY Complaint

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This is the way we like it.

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